September 21, 2017 | Issue #701
Saturday Night Everyone Was a Winner as USC Outlasted Texas in Overtime Thriller
Dotson’s Note: A suitable amount of fairy dust might've been the only thing this showdown was missing. The No. 4 USC Trojans needed two overtimes to outlast the Texas Longhorns last Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum, 27-24, during the first meeting between the programs since the legendary finish in the 2006 national championship. From every perspective, there was a victory. The foregoing is what many college football fans were thinking after Texas’ almost-win over USC. Since many of you may not remember the details of the 2006 National Championship, I thought you might enjoy some comments that were heard and read about that game. Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times writer, and Zach Helfand contributed to this report.
Many people believe the last time USC and Texas played football was one of the greatest college games ever. Before the game, a majority of football fans believed the Trojans were a better team.
Saturday night as USC hosted Texas in their first matchup since that fateful night, many of the cheers were fueled by a different sort of revenge. It wasn’t revenge against Longhorns players and coaches who are long gone from the program. It wasn’t revenge against Texas itself, which has a new coach and rebuilding group that most thought Texas would be lucky to come within three touchdowns of the Trojans.
Instead, it would be revenge for a moment lost, history vanished, invincibility disappeared, an all-time greatness that was in their grasp and then gone forever. It would be revenge for the moment Young dashed into the corner of the end zone from eight yards away with 17 seconds left for the winning touchdown, USC players chasing him with eyes wide in complete confusion.
It would be revenge for the moments of pain afterward, Trojans safety Darnell Bing still sitting on the bench 15 minutes after the game, staring out at the confetti-streaked debacle.
For 11 years, some USC fans have been stuck there, affixed to the past by plays so disappointingly memorable they come with their own titles.
Long before Fourth and Two, there was Fourth and One
Nearly three hours before LenDale White was stopped on the infamous play that could have clinched the game, the Trojans began losing with another awful decision during a similar short-yardage situation. Midway through the first quarter, fourth down, one yard needed to continue a drive that could have turned a 7-0 lead into 14-0, the ball on the Texas 17-yard line, and the Trojans run a quarterback sneak out of an empty backfield. While Matt Leinart was being stuffed for no gain, Reggie Bush was standing helpless in the slot and leading rusher White was on the sidelines. The team with two NFL running backs used neither on a running play that could have changed the game.
Don't forget that offensive whiz Norm Chow had left the team the previous offseason to become offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, a breakup with Coach Pete Carroll that had lasting ramifications. The co-coordinators were Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. The night was not their finest moment.
Next up, going down, The Lateral: It was the second play of the second quarter. The Trojans were leading, 7-0. Bush had caught a pass from Leinart and blazed 37 yards to the Texas 19-yard line, once again putting USC in a position to double its advantage. But as Bush was being tackled, he lateraled the ball toward a walk-on wide receiver named Bradley Walker, a kid who had not caught a ball all season. The surprised Walker unsurprisingly missed it, Texas recovered, drove for a field goal, and suddenly it was a game.
Now, years later, millions still want to know why Bush threw that ball. Bush has never explained it other than to say, "We tried to do too much." It was revealed that Bush and receiver Chris McFoy practiced that play days before the game. Could Bush have thought Walker was McFoy? Except McFoy wasn't in the game at the time. Another guess is that Bush was so special he thought he could do anything and get away with it. In many hard ways, he has learned otherwise.
Upon further review, The Phony Touchdown: With 4:57 left in the second quarter, Vince Young ran a dozen yards and was tackled to his knee as he pitched the ball to Selvin Young, who ran 10 more yards for a touchdown to give Texas a 9-7 lead.
Vince Young was clearly down. The replays showed it. The replay officials didn't feel strongly enough to review it, but they never really had time to review it, which shifts the blame to Carroll. Why didn't he call a timeout? Why didn't he stop play long enough for somebody to scream to an official to check the monitor and overturn the play?
Finally, Fourth and Two: This play, which occurred with USC leading by five points with 2:13 remaining in the game, has been dissected to death for 11 years, so let's get to the main two points. Carroll made the right call in going for a first down on fourth-and-two from the Texas 45-yard line. He took similar chances during his entire USC tenure. This boldness empowered the players and changed the Trojans' culture. Besides, two yards for a third national championship with one of the greatest offenses in college football history? Of course you go for it.
Heisman Trophy winner Bush on the sidelines for that play. While the ball still should have been given to White, the defense might not have been so swarming had Bush been standing in the slot, or in the backfield, or anywhere that would attract attention.
White was inches short of the first down. Would forcing an extra defender or two to watch Bush would have given White that inch? USC was just executing its usual short-yardage package, but maybe with a title on the line the Heisman guy should be on the field.
Poorly Timed Timeout: Lost in the furor over Young's winning touchdown run was Carroll's odd use of a timeout before the two-point conversion attempt that finalized the score.
It was USC's last timeout, and even though there were only 19 seconds remaining, it would have come in handy on the ensuing Trojans drive that ended on the Texas 43-yard line. One more pass, 20 more yards, a field-goal attempt to send it into overtime, and who knows?
The lost timeout was typical of the confusion that engulfed the Trojans in those final minutes as they were crushed by the amazing Young and steamrolled into a sad chapter in their history.
Dotson’s Other Note: The two games we have discussed should be on every college football fan’s Top Ten list of best games to watch. What do you think about this, and do you think Texas is going to have a winning season…it should be fun. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
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September 14, 2017 | Issue #700
Kids Playing Tackle Football
Dotson’s Note: I have reported to you Monkeys on this subject before, but I believe that it is important enough for us to have an annual discussion on the matter. Erin Stewart, Peter Schwartz, Dr. Ann McKee and Leigh Steinberg contributed to this article.
NFL players are walking away from football. Should your child do the same?
This time of year, kids across America are donning jerseys and helmets, heading back onto the football field.
And while their thoughts may be on the promised glory of the Friday night lights, many parents are thinking about their children’s brains and wincing with every helmet clash.
Parents are understandably nervous about the effects of tackle football on their children after a recent study from Boston University found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (a neurogenerative brain disease) in 99 percent of the deceased football players’ brains donated to the study.
Out of 202 brains of former football players, chronic brain trauma was diagnosed in 177, including in all but one of the NFL players, several of the high school players and the majority of the college players.
“There's no question that there's a problem in football. That people who play football are at risk for this disease," said Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University's CTE Center and co-author of the study.
The study does recognize potential bias because relatives may have submitted the donated brains due to clinical symptoms their loved ones showed while alive.
The high numbers, however, have raised questions on whether tackle football is also detrimental for younger children and have reignited the discussion on ways to save one of America’ s favorite pastime without endangering its youth.
I don’t have a son and as far as I know, my daughter had no interest in playing “tackle” football, but I’ve watched friends grapple with the central question: Should we let our kid play football? Their sons want to play. All their friends play. People have been playing football forever, right?
Some of my friends decided to put off tackle football until junior high, which means some sons are suiting up for their first tackle team this fall. Mothers are already anxious about their children going head to head with opponents, and wonder if they’ve made the right decision.
No doubt many parents are in the same spot this fall, watching their kids take the field with the recent study’s ominous statistics lurking in the background.
Leigh Steinberg, the sports agent who inspired the movie “Jerry Maguire,” weighed in on the debate, calling concussions a “ticking time bomb” in an article on thepostgame.com.
And while the legendary sports agent doesn’t want to see football fade away, he does think the sport needs to reinvent how it keeps its youngest players safely. Namely, he suggests:
1. Reaching a consensus on what age tackle football doesn’t mean unnecessary brain risk. Some experts advocate tackle football should not be played before age 14. Others say the minimum should be ninth grade.
2. Teaching safer blocking and tackling techniques.
3. Upgrading the quality of the equipment at the high school level, and creating maintenance standards.
4. Requiring baseline cognitive testing before a high school athlete ever steps foot onto the field.
Whether you agree with Steinberg’s suggestions or not, sweeping the problem of brain injury and concussions under the bleachers doesn’t help anyone. And since there’s no way teenage boys and football parents are going to just bid farewell to the sport, the answer has to be in new procedures, new standards and an awareness that tackle football may not be appropriate for developing brains.
This does not mean America has to swear off the game, but I believe that younger kids should learn their skills in the flag football arena. I suggest that if you have a young son wanting to play football, sign him up for a non-tackle team in a heartbeat. But helmets, pads and tackling techniques should have to wait because you should be far less interested in saving a sport than saving your son.
Three Reasons Why Your Child Should Play Youth Football
A few years ago, a friend’s football team was handing out game jerseys during training camp. The jerseys had been ordered in advance in assorted sizes with numbers already on them. Once they’re given out, the last names are added to them.
His son looked at the jerseys in his size and settled on No. 3. A short time later, another child picked out his jersey. I don’t remember exactly what number it was, but let’s just say it was 65. One of his parents was overheard saying something to the effect of: “That number is not good. My son is a wide receiver, and wide receivers don’t wear that number in the NFL.”
I really don’t know if the parent was serious, but it brings up an important topic. If your child is playing youth football because you think he’s making it to the NFL, then he’s playing youth football for the wrong reason. The numbers against that happening are just astronomical.
Most parents don’t need or want the NFL. They just want a college scholarship. They know that the chances of that are also slim. In fact, the NCAA publishes those percentages each year so parents have a realistic view of what’s in front of their children.
Now, there is no doubt that there are kids playing youth football today who will make it the NFL. Others will reach the college level, and most will see their playing careers end in high school or before. The dream of playing at the highest level possible is admirable, but it should not be the reason your child takes the field.
Here Are Three Reasons Why Your Child Should Play Youth Football
1) For the love of the game. A child should never play a sport that he or she doesn’t like.
2) Physical activity. We live in a society where an increasing number of children are inactive. According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 1 in 6 U.S. children are obese. A little fun playing Madden is fine, but not moving around is not good for a child. Kids need to be active and playing something. Whether its tackle or flag football, those are great ways for a child to run around and stay in shape.
3) Teamwork and discipline. I’ve had many football players tell me that the sport played a big role in their lives, not just on the field but also off-the field. I’ve also had many parents tell me how important it is for their kids to play. Playing youth football is a great way to build discipline in a child, and it is a terrific tool for learning how important teamwork is. It’s a sport where you really have to concentrate on your job and be able to trust what your teammates are doing.
Children should play football because they like it, to have fun and to learn some important life lessons. Boys love playing football, and they would love to play at the next level. Many boys go to see their local high school team play from time to time, and the wonder what it would be like to be out on that field in a few years if the opportunity comes about.
But that’s not why they play. They play because it’s fun, they are making friends for life, and they are using it as a tool to grow. That’s all parents can ask for.
Dotson’s Other Note: Tackle football is a dearly held tradition for many families (including mine), who have been playing the sport without serious injury for generations. To me playing football was fun and I played both flag football and tackle football. Each has its place. I do feel that all should play the non-tackle versions of the game until they reach their teens. In the foregoing article where “sons” appears, I mean that to be all inclusive, including, but not limited to, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, great-granddaughters, great grandsons, nieces, nephews and etc. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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September 7 , 2017 | Issue #699
Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge-Home Run Hitters
Dotson’s Note: As I rode out Hurricane Harvey the other night, I considered doing a Moon Sports Talk report on Aaron Judge the home run hitting Phenom of the New York Yankees. As I was surfing sports pages, the lead: “Giancarlo Stanton is so far ahead in home run race, he could make even more history,” grabbed my attention. So I decided to combine two MLB (Major League Baseball) reports. Steve Contursi, Matt Snyder of CBS Sports, and Stephanie Aipstein of “Sports Illustrated”, contributed to this report.
Stanton Has a Chance to Do Something That Hasn't Happened Since 1933
As of this writing Giancarlo Stanton sits with the MLB lead at 52. He still has tied the record for the most home runs ever in an August with 18 and he'd hit 30 homers in 49 games. Imagine if he started the season on that kind of kick.
Here was the top five as of August 31st:
1-Stanton, Marlins, 51; 2-Aaron Judge, Yankees, 37;
3-Khris Davis, Athletics, 36; 4-Justin Smoak, Blue Jays, 36; Joey Gallo, Rangers, 36
It's a menacing lead for Stanton and it appears he's not going to lose it. What if he maintains a lead of that size, though? We rarely see such a huge gap between first and second in home runs.
We never see that size of a gap any more. We haven't seen a home run leader finish with a 14-bomb lead since the game was integrated.
Just look at that list. Babe Ruth was a freak of nature when he stormed onto the scene, lapping the field, sometimes out-homering teams. We've never going to see that again.
Then Jimmie Foxx is a Hall of Famer who had two giant homer seasons in the early 1930s and that's it for the rest of baseball history.
Even when Barry Bonds hit 73 homers, Sammy Sosa had 64. When Mark McGwire hit 70, Sosa had 66. The next year McGwire had 65, but Sosa hit 63. When Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, Mickey Mantle had 54.
Even seasons in the 50s usually have had company. In 2006, Ryan Howard hit 58 homers, but David Ortiz had 54. Hank Greenberg's 58 in 1930 was followed by Foxx's 50. The last NL player to hit 50 homers in a season -- before Stanton this year, of course -- was Prince Fielder in 2006. He didn't lead the majors, though, as A-Rod had 54. To see a player with 51 home runs while no one else has more than 37, against the historical backdrop, is hard to believe
Stanton's pursuit of 60-plus home runs is great fun, but an added wrinkle is seeing if he can join a group that's only comprised of two pre-integration players who were among the greatest sluggers in history in Ruth and Foxx.
Aaron Judge-Yankees Home Run Hitter
People keep asking Aaron Judge: What is life like now that everyone knows you? He has a hard time answering that question. Everyone has always known him.
As a child growing up with his teacher parents and older brother in Linden, Calif., a no-stoplight pinprick of an agricultural town 100 miles inland from San Francisco, he could go weeks without encountering a stranger. By the time he enrolled at Fresno State, he was a star outfielder who drew stares every time he entered a room. There is nowhere for a 6' 7", 282-pound man to hide. He is used to the feeling of eyes on him.
Perhaps the biggest difference is how often people approach him, though he always got some of that, too. “You’re huge!” passersby would say. “What do you play?” He’d grin and answer, “Fantasy football,” before fessing up. Today the questions tend to be requests, usually for photos. He tries to agree to them all. “That could be the only time they meet me,” Judge says. “I don’t want to leave the impression that I didn’t have the five seconds to say hello.”
When they see him, fans like to inform him, “You’re Aaron Judge!”
His plate appearances snap fans to attention, in part for their own safety; recently he took out a TV in the Yankee Stadium outfield terrace during batting practice. When New York trails entering the ninth inning, no matter where Judge awaits in the lineup, the announcers start doing the math. If just one of them gets on base . . . Barring a double play. . . . As Judge lurks in the right-handed batter’s box and outfielders backpedal, fans shower him with MVP chants.
Manager Joe Girardi has cited Derek Jeter to describe Judge’s demeanor. Broadcasters gush that his bombs are Ruthian. And his attitude toward fans recalls Joe DiMaggio’s famous line: “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best.”
Maybe we should have seen this coming: Judge did homer in his first major league at bat last August. But then he went 14 for his next 83 with three more home runs and 42 strikeouts. That was the kind of performance scouts had feared in the run-up to the 2013 draft. There’s a reason most people who look like Judge can’t hack it at the highest level: They hack at the highest level. “The strike zone is just so big,” explains Yankees national scout Brian Barber. “Can he reach the pitch outside? Can he get the bat on the pitch inside?” New York had two extra first-round picks that year and decided to use one, the 32nd, on a guy with a low floor but a very high ceiling.
Judge does not live quite the life you might imagine for a 25-year-old star of the most storied franchise in sports. His first visit to New York City was the day he was drafted; his second came on the day he was called up. He spent the end of a recent home stand in leftfielder Brett Gardner’s guest room in Armonk, 30 miles north of the city, but otherwise he lives out of two suitcases in an Art Deco hotel in the heart of Times Square.
“I have a very short window to play this game,” he says. “The last thing I want to do is waste it being out on the town. I want to get every ounce I can out of my body.”
That body has always been prodigious. After dominant Little League performances, adults would quiz him on his age. He began to imagine a future in which he made the majors, but the picture was just an outline. He starred in three sports as a teenager, setting the Linden High record for touchdowns as a wide receiver and scoring 18.2 points per game as a basketball center, but he always loved baseball most. Back then he didn’t quite understand why. Today the reason is clear to him: because it’s hard.
He enjoys the grind of 162 games in 183 days. He likes that he never knows what day of the week it is, instead tracking time by the beginnings and ends of series. Baseball rewards dedication to a process, and Judge loves the process.
Dotson’s Other Note: To tell the truth, I had not paid much attention to Giancarlo Stanton and his home run hitting. During and after the All-Star game home run hitting contest, I have been keeping an eye on Aaron Judge. I thought there might be a chance of him hitting even more home runs than anyone who was involved in PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs). Suddenly, it’s getting interesting…I’ll bet Ruth & Maris and of course my favorite, Hank Aaron, are taking swings again. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
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Why White NFL Players Are Joining National Anthem Protests
August 30, 2017 | Special Edition Issue #698
Dotson’s Note: After last week’s article I had planned to let the subject of “Kaepernick” quietly fade away. But, due to many conversations with some of you Moon Monkeys, I have decided it ain’t going away, so I am adding some more fuel to the fire. Thanks to Eric Schaal for his very well written article, “Why White NFL Players Are Joining National Anthem Protests.” His report gives many of us the point of view of some NFL players, regarding what I call “The Kaepernick Saga.” Please read carefully, we will discuss this the next time we get together.
It’s no longer just an unemployed quarterback taking a knee when they play the national anthem before NFL games. Marshawn Lynch, a Super Bowl champion with Seattle and a potential Hall of Famer, began sitting for the anthem during this year’s preseason as well. Even without Colin Kaepernick on an NFL roster, at least 10 players have taken action on the field in 2017.
In fact, several white NFL players joined the protests for the first time ever during the second week of the preseason. Eagles defensive end Chris Long, Seahawks center Justin Britt, and Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr all made statements on some level during pregame ceremonies.
Just days after Seattle’s Michael Bennett said protests would have a much greater impact with white players involved, the Seahawks star saw his wish granted. Whether through silent support for teammates or accompanied by statements to the press, these players joined African-American players for the first time. Here’s why they changed their minds.
Answering Bennett’s Call
When Bennett spoke about white players showing support, he may not have expected it to come so quickly, and from his own locker room. Prior to the August 18 game against Minnesota, Britt approached Bennett about putting a hand on his shoulder while he sat for the anthem. According to ESPN, Britt said Bennett’s plea hit home. “What Mike said, and how he said a white player should do it, that kind of triggered in my mind, because I see what’s going on. We all do.”
Britt explained in detail why he thought it was important. “I want to support what [Bennett] stands for and his beliefs,” he said. “And I’m going to continue to understand what’s going on in the world and why it’s happening. Because none of its right. None of it’s what should be happening.” Britt, whose father was an Army veteran, said he intended no disrespect to the flag or the armed forces. “I’m just trying to understand the issues, trying to educate myself more and showing support.”
Outrage after Charlottesville
Among the many ugly events Americans witnessed over the past few years, the white nationalist and neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville sparked the most outrage. Citizens across the country condemned the hatred, bigotry, and murder that the group brought to Virginia in August. The weekend’s tragic events affected Long, a native of Charlottesville, especially hard.
When President Trump didn’t single out hate groups — instead, he criticized “many sides” — Long criticized Trump via Twitter. The following day, with people telling him to stick to football, Long responded in an interview with CSN Philly: “Everybody is trying to turn this political. This isn’t a political issue. This is right or wrong. I believe you’re on one side or the other. For me, being from Charlottesville, no one wants to see you sit idly by and watch that stuff happen and not say anything.”
The following week, Long put his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins as he raised his fist during the national anthem. Jenkins, who began the gesture in solidarity with Kaepernick last season, found support in a white teammate for the first time.
A Sign of Racial Unity
Above, Oakland quarterback Derek Carr (R) said he plans to stand close to Khalil Mack as a show of unity. Before Oakland’s August 19 preseason game, Carr stood next to teammate Khalil Mack with his hand on Mack’s left shoulder. Carr said they hoped to present an image of racial unity for people watching during the anthem. Though it was not a protest, Carr explained their actions to the Las-Vegas Review Journal: “Any kid, any family, any adult that follows us or looks up to us, we knew their eyes would be on us. We wanted to show them that it’s OK for a white kid and a black kid who come from two different neighborhoods to grow up and love one another and be best friends… That’s what me and Khalil are. We’re best friends, and we love one another.”
The Immediate Impact
Following the support from Britt, Bennett told ESPN what it meant for him. “A very emotional moment to have that kind of solidarity from someone like Justin Britt, who’s a known leader in our locker room, who’s from a different part of America than me,” he said.
Bennett stressed the fact that Britt took a risk by publicly standing with him. “To see him put everything on the line to support one of his teammates … was a special moment.”
Not Just Kaepernick
If the second week of the preseason is any indication, these protests will continue — and only increase in number as the season goes on. Players from Buffalo, Philly, LA, Oakland, Tennessee, and Seattle already joined the fold.
As more players come together to protest, it will become tough for critics to attack as they did so frequently with Kaepernick. (The former 49ers QB remained without a job in the third week of August.) And, as Bennett predicted, the white players on board will only amplify their statement for equality and justice.
After standing with his African-American teammate, Justin Britt said something remarkable. “We all have choices whether to be an example or be a follower,” he told ESPN. “So whether it’s good or bad in some eyes, I feel like I’m just supporting my teammate, supporting why he’s doing it and his reasons, and trying to encourage others.”
Will Brady Stay Silent?
It’s an important statement coming from a role model, and that leads us to the face of the NFL: Tom Brady. Brady, who has called Trump “a friend” in the past, has been mum on the subject of Charlottesville and the president’s comments.
The following weekend, Boston (home of the Patriots) hosted the biggest counter-protest to hate groups in the nation. So how long can Brady remain neutral in a town that took a side (as have Long and many other NFL players)? The clock has already started ticking.
Dotson’s Other Note: Interesting to say the least. After discussing this matter with many NFL fans and some not avid NFL watchers who, for the most part, give me the feeling that they are not going to watch the NFL this season (2017) because of “The Kaepernick Saga.” I believe this is a failure to show proper respect for the National Anthem, which has nothing to do with “Freedom of Speech.”
PS: I had a heck of a time remaining politically correct in this one also!
Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Can The Astros Do It?
August 17, 2017 | Issue #696
Dotson’s Note: from the Colt .45s to the Astrodome to life in Minute Maid Park, the Astros have enjoyed quite a half-century. There is a lot of talk in Corpus Christi about the possibility of the Astros finally playing in the World Series. I thought that you Moon Monkeys who are Astros fans and hoping for the best might enjoy the following bits of information. Jake Kaplan, the Astros beat writer, and Ben Lindbergh contributed to this article.
A Little Baseball History
Prior to the Astros, 33 teams since 1900 — including last year’s Cubs — had won at least 70% of their first 58 games. Only two of those teams, the 1927 Yankees and 1954 Indians, matched that early winning percentage over the rest of the season. Collectively, those 33 teams posted a .739 winning percentage in their first 58 games, and a .625 winning percentage thereafter. That’s still excellent. Just a little less so, which is worth keeping in mind as the buzz builds about the Astros being a legendary team.
Last year’s Cubs’ winning percentage fell from .707 through their first 58 games to .602 from 59 on, and that team was projected to be the best team in baseball before the season started. The Astros received only the sixth-best projection this spring. As much as it might seem as if these past months of play should take precedence over what we thought before Opening Day, preseason projections that incorporate years of performance are far better predictors of a team’s rest-of-season performance than its early-season record or early-season run differential.
The Offense Isn’t “This” Good (as of June 16th)
The only observation that’s almost as obvious as “the Astros offense has been historically great” is the observation that it might be a little less great going forward, but hey, here we are.* The Astros have averaged more than nine runs over their past eight games, so we could be catching them at a high point. According to Baseball Prospectus’s measure of opponent quality, Houston has faced the fifth-weakest opposing pitchers so far, although that could continue; BP also assesses the Astros’ remaining schedule as one of the weakest.
As potent as the Astros offense was projected to be, their hitters have still collectively managed to beat their projections by more than all but a few other teams’. Most of the Astros’ regular hitters have been better than the projections foresaw, and none more than Marwin González, 28, and Jake Marisnick, 26, who entered the season as career below-average hitters and have posted the largest and 17th-largest offensive over performances so far, respectively. Of the 41 hitters with at least 12 home runs, González (.314/.409/.636) has the lowest average homer distance by a full 15 feet, which suggests that he’ll have a hard time hanging with that group. Marisnick (.250/.337/.513, in 86 PA) seems to have adopted a high-strikeout, air-oriented approach, which makes his power appear more real, but he’s fooled us with small-sample starts in the past. In 2015, he hit .342/.386/.566 through his first 84 plate appearances and slumped to .205/.251/.331 the rest of the way.
Forget preseason projections: Even if we go by the kind of contact the Astros have made, we wouldn’t expect them to have done this much damage. Only four teams have beaten their expected wOBA — as estimated from Statcast-derived launch angles and exit speeds — by wider margins than the Astros. Houston has a few hitters (including Aoki and Alex Bregman) who could be better than they’ve been, but the better-than-expected have outnumbered the could-be-betters so far. The Astros have the majors’ most formidable lineup, but it’s likely to come back toward the pack at least a little bit.
Any regression at the plate might make it more noticeable that the Astros have been one of the worst baser running teams, ranking last per BP and second-worst per FanGraphs. Houston has made the majors’ most outs on the bases, and while that’s partly a product of its high OBP, the metrics make adjustments for opportunities, too. Nor have the Astros been aggressive in trying to steal or take extra bases. Of course, it’s hard to blame a team that’s been scoring runners at the rate the Astros have for being wary of wiping them out. And according to BP, the ’Stros have excelled at restricting opposing teams’ running games, holding their opponents to the fourth-worst total of base running runs against.
Their Timing on the Mound Has Been Too Good to Continue
In light of their lineup’s talent, it’s not so surprising that the Astros have scored the majors’ most runs, but it is unexpected that they’ve allowed the second fewest. Although the Astros have missed the most bats in the big leagues, led by their slider-reliant bullpen, their shift-heavy defense doesn’t rate highly, and their pitchers haven’t been elite at limiting walks or homers. They have, however, looked like a different staff with men on and runners in scoring position than they have with the bases empty.
With the bases empty, Astros pitchers have allowed a roughly league-average OPS. With men on and runners in scoring position, they’ve been the stingiest team in baseball. That divide probably won’t persist: In time, the “runners in scoring position” performance will come closer to the Astros’ stats in the larger, “bases empty” sample. Call it luck, clutchness, or both, but the Astros’ fortuitous timing has given them 3–5 wins that they wouldn’t have earned otherwise. Both Base Runs and Third-Order Record, two methods of estimating a team’s win-loss record from its underlying stats, peg the Astros as MLB’s biggest over performers (while also anointing them as the second-strongest performers so far).
To keep preventing runs at this pace, the Astros would also have to have health on their side. Although the preseason fear that Houston wouldn’t have an ace has turned out to be baseless — McCullers and Dallas Keuchel rank sixth and seventh, respectively, among qualified starters in park-adjusted FIP — the team’s lineup and bullpen depth doesn’t extend to the rotation.
As of mid June, Keuchel and McCullers are coming off injury-shortened years, and McCullers has never reached 160 innings in a single season. Behind them, the uncertainties add up: Presumptive third starter Collin McHugh has been sidelined with elbow issues all year, oft-injured spin-rate standout Charlie Morton has been disabled by back problems, and Mike Fiers has allowed 18 homers in 11 starts. The Astros have other options — Joe Musgrove was about to be back from his own injury absence, and the low-profile Brad Peacock, of all pitchers, has racked up strikeouts so far — but losing either of their top two starters would be a big blow. Fortunately for Houston, its bullpen runs several effective arms deep, and its prospect-rich system has plenty of prospects to spare.
*As of June 16th.
Dotson’s Other Note: If, after reading this, you’re thinking that none of these nitpicks sound so bad, you’re right! Most of the above stats were compiled as of June 16th, but the Astros remain really good. If you’re a loyal fan who is following them closely, you will recognize how much has changed from Opening Day until June 16th and until now. Right now, they’re riding high, so their stats seem otherworldly. At the time of writing this article, they had a 72-45 record, a .615 winning percentage. A correction may come in their last 45 regular season games, but I don’t think it will be big enough to dislodge them from their perch atop the AL’s win-loss leaderboard. Like the rebuilt Cubs before them, the Astros have a case as the best team in baseball. It’s just a little too soon to place them among the best teams of all time. But it might be a good idea to order your World Series tickets, just in case. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
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Did Zola Budd Trip Mary Decker?
August 10, 2017 | Issue #695
Dotson’s Note: The following is, to me, one of the most memorable moments in the history of sports. Medal favorite Mary Decker of the United States became tangled with 18-year-old Zola Budd of South Africa and fell to the track in the 3,000-meter race at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. I have attempted to provide you the Moon Monkeys with the “rest of the story.” Mike Rosenbaum contributed to this article.
Did Zola Budd trip Mary Decker in 1984 in the Olympic Games? The video was inconclusive but there’s no doubt that the 3000-meter race produced one of the greatest controversies in Olympic track and field history.
Zola Budd Gains British Citizenship to Compete in the 1984 Olympics
Budd was already a well-known and controversial competitor prior to the Los Angeles Games. The barefoot runner was born in South Africa, which was then banned from the Olympics due to its government’s apartheid policy.
When Budd applied for British citizenship in early 1984 her request was expedited and she became a British citizen in time to compete in Los Angeles where she earned a spot in the 3000 final.
The women's 3000-meter race was hotly anticipated as the media posed it as a duel between American world champion Mary Decker and Zola Budd. But they weren't the only competitors, as Maricica Puica from Romania had set the fastest time in 1984.
Just past the midpoint of the race, with Budd slightly ahead of Decker, the two came in contact but neither broke stride. Moments later, however, Budd moved lower on the track and Decker stepped on Budd’s heel, causing Budd to stumble and Decker to trip over Budd. Budd got up and continued but never drew back into contention, finishing seventh. Decker remained down with an injured thigh. Romania’s Maricica Puica went on to win the race.
The Blame Game
Decker angrily blamed Budd for the incident, saying there was “no doubt” that Budd was at fault. Track officials initially agreed, disqualifying Budd for obstruction, but reversed their decision after reviewing tapes of the race. These seemed to indicate that Budd’s move, while perhaps a bit abrupt, was made in reaction to other runners’ movements and was unintentional.
It is the responsibility of the trailing runners to avoid contact with the runners ahead of them. Leaders should try to move predictably, but those behind them need to take precautions.
Budd was roundly booed as she completed the race and said in her autobiography that she deliberately slowed down in the face of the hostile crowd. She said she tried to apologize to Decker as they left the field but was rebuffed.
Mary Decker said many years later that she didn't think she was tripped deliberately and her fall was due to her own inexperience in running in a pack. In any event, the tangle cost both runners the chance for an Olympic medal in 1984.
After the Olympics
They had a rematch at Crystal Palace in July 1985, with Mary Decker-Slaney winning and finishing 13 seconds ahead of Zola Budd, who finished fourth.
Budd competed at the 1992 Olympic Games in South Africa in the 3000 meters. She broke the world record for the women's 5000 meters in 1985. She won the World Cross Country Championships in 1985 and 1986.
Decker's record for the 1500 meters stood for 32 years and other US records for the mile, 2000 meters, and 3000 meters were still standing as of 2017. She was the first woman to run less than 4:20 for the mile. However, she was plagued with stress fractures and was disqualified due to doping tests from the 1996 Olympic Games.
Budd, the barefoot South Africa-born runner who was given a fast-track passport to represent Great Britain at the Olympics, said she “gave up” after the incident because she did not want to win a medal when the crowd started to boo her.
Budd said she could only recall a “blur” of the events of the 3,000m Olympic final. “I only knew someone had fallen. When I passed by the spot again, on the next lap, it was then I realized it was Mary,” she told the Radio Times. “And the crowd started booing. That’s when I gave up. Everything leading up to it, all the politics, all the hype, and then for Mary to fall. It was like a soap opera. It couldn’t be real. I slowed down deliberately. I didn’t want to be on the medal podium. In a way, I stopped running.”
Budd had joined the British team on the grounds that her grandfather was British, but the switch was hugely controversial during the apartheid-era sporting boycott.
Budd and Decker were reunited for a feature-length documentary 32 years (2016) after the catastrophic finish to one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes on the running track. In the Sky Atlantic documentary, The Fall, the two women jog together on the grassed-over track in the LA stadium where it happened.
Budd said it was “probably good for both of us. To be there with Mary put a lot of things to rest. Before, it was this huge stadium full of booing people. But meeting Mary normalized everything. It healed both of us.”
Budd was asked if she still thought about the race today. “Yes I do. You can’t not. It becomes part of your life,” she said. “It did make me angry, but not anymore. I still feel angry at people for blaming me for apartheid, and wanting me to take responsibility for that. But I’m not bitter.”
Decker, the former world champion and one-time golden girl of US athletics who set a string of world records in the run-up to the 1984 Games, said: “I don’t think about it. It’s something that almost happened in a different lifetime. People need to understand that the Olympics are important, but they don’t define your entire career.” She continued: “I think I have arrived at a good place. I have one child, Zola has three. We have life.”
Dotson’s Other Note: It was the most infamous fall in Olympic history and now Zola Budd has told how she deliberately slowed down after she tangled with Mary Decker who came crashing to the ground at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Do any of you Moon Monkey “sport nuts” remember this incident? Your thoughts then and now are solicited and welcome. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Miracle Mile
August 3, 2017 | Issue #694
Dotson’s Note: The build-up to this race was incredible. Track, as one of the truly international sports, had followers all over the world. The first four-minute mile had captured the imagination of millions. And now the first two runners to have broken that barrier earlier in the summer, Roger Bannister and John Landy, were to meet in the Vancouver Empire Games. The race received huge coverage. I thought of it as “The Mile of the Century.” It took place on August 7, 1954, at The Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was, in my opinion, the greatest foot race of all time. My thanks to writer Len Johnson and Sports Illustrated for contributing to this article.
Bannister vs Landy
It was given an array of names, The Miracle Mile, The Mile of the Century. As well, the television cameras were ready to supply the new medium live to an estimated 10 million North American viewers. Radio provided live coverage to the rest of the world. Bannister and Landy had become celebrities, hunted down by reporters and cameramen as soon as they arrived in Vancouver. The two runners dealt with the situation in different ways: Bannister avoided attention as much as he could and trained in private; Landy was happy to talk to anyone and trained in public.
Landy knew that he had to use front-running tactics. He had tried to show his speed by tackling the 1,000 in Europe, but Bannister’s last lap of 53 in the British AAA Championships convinced him that trying to win in a sprint would be futile. His only option was to draw Bannister into a very fast pace and thus drain him of any finishing kick. His chance of success, based on many races in the past, was not good. More often than not, big Mile races were won by a kicker. Front runners usually won only when they were significantly better than their opponents. As Landy told Mike Hurst, “It’s very hard to beat somebody of the same ability running from the front.” (IAAF.org) So Landy had to decide how to take the sting out of Bannister’s kick: should he go out early and open up a gap, or should he keep Bannister in contact and lure him on faster and faster? On top of these considerations, Landy felt an obligation to the public to make the race a fast one.
Bannister, on the other hand, knew he had the ace card. His superb finishing speed made him the favorite. Still, he had a huge task: to be touch with the fastest miler in the world on the last lap and still keep something in reserve for the finishing kick. He planned to run the race as evenly as possible and leave his finishing kick to the last straight.
There was another factor in the race: both runners had health problems. Bannister had developed his first cold of the year. It was at its worst in the heats, but mercifully it improved before the final. Still, in post-race interviews he was coughing badly. Landy, on the other hand, had to run with two gashes on the bottom of his foot. He had gone outdoors barefoot in the night and trodden on a photographer’s flash bulb. The worst gash, which was between the ball of the foot and the heel required stitches. Landy tried to keep the injury secret, but the doctor told a reporter about it, and the story eventually got out. However, Landy has always claimed that it made no difference to his race.
There were only two heats; Bannister and Landy drew separate heats. So when they lined up for the final, they were competing against each other for the first time since the 1,500 heats in the 1952 Olympics. In appearance they were quite different: Bannister was pale and frail-looking; Landy was deeply tanned and muscular. And as they set off, their running styles also contrasted, with Landy running with a brisk, high-tempo gait and Bannister with a long-striding, loping gait. As part of their “Help-Landy” plan, Kiwis Halberg and Baillie set off at a brisk pace. But after 220, Landy felt that their pace was not fast enough. By the crown of the bend he was in the lead, and at 440 he had a lead of 5 yards. Bannister who had stayed in the pack for most of the first lap, moved up to second in the straight before the end of the first lap. For the next 220, the five-yard gap stayed unchanged, but then Landy poured it on to double his lead. It stretched to as much as 12-13 yards, but Bannister had it back to ten at the halfway mark.
But he had lost contact with Landy. “This was the moment when my confidence wavered,” Bannister wrote later. Since Landy was not slowing and since he felt he had to be at Landy’s shoulder in the early part of lap 4, Bannister decided to abandon his schedule and try to catch Landy: “I quickened my stride, trying at the same time to keep relaxed.” He soon made up ground and regained reasonable contact, though 5 yards back. “I was almost hypnotized by his easy shuffling stride—the most clipped and economical I have ever seen. I tried to imagine myself attached to him by some invisible cord. With each stride I drew the cord tighter and reduced his lead.”
Landy had not slowed, running his third lap in 60.2, but Bannister had run an amazing 59.3. Usually the third lap of a Mile is the slowest, so Bannister’s 59.3 must have demanded considerable effort. He was close to Landy as the bell rang (2:58.4 to 2:59.0). But the Australian was able to answer; he accelerated along the back straight, opening up a 3-4 yard gap. Both runners were under 30.0 for the penultimate 220. Bannister knew that if Landy didn’t slacken, he would be defeated: “As we entered the last bend, I tried to convince myself that he was tiring.”
Round the last bend, Bannister closed on the straining Aussie. Coming into the straight, Landy thought he had broken Bannister and looked back to the left at the very moment Bannister came by on his right. “I flung myself past Landy,” Bannister wrote. “As I did so I saw him glance inwards over his opposite shoulder. This tiny act of his held great significance and gave me confidence.”) Bannister was finally in the lead with 70 to go after a little resistance from Landy. Bannister knew he was slowing himself, but he had broken his rival and needed only to hold on. Hitting the tape in 3:58.8, he collapsed into the arms of an official. Landy was only 0.8 behind him.
Such was the excitement that officials and press swarmed on to the track and hindered the other runners. Halberg, who finished fifth, was one of those who had to fight to reach the finish line: “The end of the race was a bit of a shambles. The officials, and there were a hell of a lot of them for this particular race, converged in a mass on to the track when Bannister and Landy finished…. We had to finish into this seething clutter of mixed-up officialdom, all trying to slap the backs of Bannister and Landy.”
Bannister had a deep respect for Landy, and his comments underline the classic difference between the two runners: Bannister was a racer, while Landy was a fast solo runner. And the racer always has the advantage when the two are of equal ability. Bannister wrote of Landy: “He is the sort of runner I could never become, and for this I admire him. Before Vancouver he achieved a record of solo mile races that I could never have equaled. At Vancouver he had the courage to lead at the same speed in a closely competitive race. His boldness forced me to abandon my time schedule and lose myself quite completely in the struggle itself.” Landy’s different attitude to running can be seen in a crucial comment to Sports Illustrated: “I’d rather lose a 3:58 mile than win one in 4:10.” Though winning was important to Landy, his time was the priority.
Landy was resigned in his defeat: “I tried to set a fast pace from the start. I did exactly as I wanted, but I was beaten by a better man today.” Yes, Landy ran as well as he could. Len Johnson summarized the result most succinctly “That Landy did not succeed may just have been because Bannister ran the race of his life.”
Dotson’s Other Note: The order of finish was: 1. Roger Bannister ENG 3:58.8; 2. John Landy AUS 3:59.6; 3. R. Ferguson CAN 4:04.6; 4. V. Milligan NIR 4: 05.0; 5. Murray Halberg NZL 4:07.2; 6. Ian Boyd ENG 4:07.2. It was hard for me to believe that a mile was run in under 4 minutes and it was done by two runners in the same race. I was a pretty good miler and back in my day (in 1948), while running in an Army meet in Japan, I had run a 4:02.5 mile. As I recall, there were only two runners that topped my time in 1948. At that time, I had the four minute mile in my sights. The problem is and was, that even after the sub-four minute was relatively common, I still never broke that barrier. But I will never forget listening to the short wave radio and hearing the “Miracle Mile” live broadcast August 7, 1954 (it was August 8th where I was tuned in). I realized that I was 26 years old and past my prime as a “miler.” Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
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Ole Diz-Baseball Player Turned Sportscaster
July 27, 2017 | Issue #693
Note: After arriving in El Paso Texas in the mid-50s, I met by way of television (on a 12” Philco set), in my opinion, the second best, and by far, the most entertaining Sports Announcer of all time. Dizzy Dean kept our attention no matter how boring the game might have gotten. Thanks to Martin Donell Kohout who contributed to this article.
The Man “Hisself”
Jay Hanna (Dizzy) Dean, baseball player and sportscaster, claimed at various times that he had been born in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Missouri and that his given name was Jay Hanna and Jerome Herman. In fact, he was apparently born in Lucas, Arkansas, on January 16, 1910, the second son of Albert Monroe and Alma (Nelson) Dean. He later boasted that his formal education ended after the second grade in Chickalah, Arkansas; as a teenager he pitched for a junior high school team in Spaulding, Oklahoma, although he was not a student.
Dean's mother died when he was eight, and from the age of ten to sixteen he worked with his two brothers and his father as an itinerant cotton picker. Though his father was a former semiprofessional baseball player and doubtless taught the boys something about the game, Dean later claimed that he and his younger brother Paul developed their pitching skills by throwing hickory nuts at squirrels. Dean joined the army at the age of sixteen and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He played on the post laundry baseball team until a sergeant recruited him for the Twelfth Field Artillery team. After his discharge in 1929 he joined the semiprofessional San Antonio Public Service Utilities team, for which he won sixteen games.
Dean made the major leagues in 1932 and quickly became one of the most colorful members of the Cardinals' celebrated "Gas House Gang." He remained an amusingly incorrigible braggart; one writer said that Dean's was "the strongest, best lubricated, and most frequently used voice apparatus the national pastime has ever known." But he had the talent to back up his bragging and became the dominant pitcher in the National League in the mid-1930s. In his first season with St. Louis, he compiled an 18-15 record, and in 1933 he won twenty games against eighteen losses and set a National League record when he struck out seventeen Chicago Cubs in a single game.
The Cardinals added Paul Dean, who Dizzy claimed was the hardest thrower in the family, to their pitching staff in 1934, and Dizzy brashly predicted that he and his brother would win forty-five games. In fact, this boast proved pessimistic; Paul won nineteen games, while Dizzy had his greatest season. He posted a 30-7 record and was named the most valuable player in the league; no National League pitcher has won thirty games in a season since. The brothers staged a one-day strike in June in an effort to win a $2,000 raise for Paul and were briefly suspended for refusing to accompany the team to Detroit for an exhibition game in August but returned to win twelve of the Cardinals' last eighteen games, as St. Louis won the National League pennant. In a September doubleheader against Brooklyn, Dean pitched a three-hit shutout in the first game, only to have Paul pitch a no-hitter in the nightcap. "I wished I'da known Paul was goin' to pitch a no-hitter," complained the irrepressible Dean afterward. "I'da pitched one too." The brothers had two wins apiece as the Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. In the fourth game of that series Dean, who had been inserted into the game as a pinch-runner, was hit in the head by a throw while trying to break up a double play. He recovered to pitch on the following day, and the headline "X-Ray of Dean's Head Reveals Nothing" became part of his legend.
In July 1941 Dizzy left the field to broadcast the home games of the Cardinals and the American League St. Louis Browns on the radio. As a radio announcer, Dean earned a devoted following and some enemies. He broke into song, usually "The Wabash Cannonball," during dull games, and his neologisms and malapropisms, such as "He slud into third" and "The players returned to their respectable bases," became legendary. In 1946 two Missouri schoolteachers complained to the Federal Communications Commission that Dean's broadcasts were "replete with errors in grammar and syntax" and were "having a bad effect on their pupils." Norman Cousins of the Saturday Review of Literature was among those who rallied to Dean's defense, and Dizzy himself offered something of an apology. "Maybe I am butcherin' up the English language a little," he said. "Well, all I got to say is that when me and Paul and Pa was pickin' cotton in Arkansas, we didn't have no chance to go to school much. But I'm glad that kids are gettin' that chance today."
Dean's countrified approach as an announcer seemed better suited to St. Louis, which until the mid-1950s was major league baseball's southernmost and westernmost frontier, than the metropolitan east, but in 1950 he signed to broadcast Yankee games on New York television station WABD for a salary of $40,000. No less an authority than the acerbic Walter Winchell said that Dean was one of his favorite sports announcers, but the Yankees let him go after the 1951 season, and he returned to St. Louis to become a part-time radio announcer for the Browns.
Dizzy apparently took his wife's advice on financial matters. He invested heavily in stocks and bonds, and besides a home in the Preston Hollow suburb of Dallas, he owned five office buildings and the 300-acre D. D. Ranch in Lancaster, where he raised registered Herefords. He also wrote a syndicated baseball column and earned money from the movie rights to his biography, which was filmed in 1952 as The Pride of St. Louis, with Dan Dailey in the title role. In 1953 Dean dropped his radio broadcasting to concentrate on the nationally televised "Game of the Week." As baseball's first national television broadcaster he made $100,000 a year, and he remained on the "Game of the Week" until 1965. In the early 1960s he and his wife left Texas and settled in her hometown of Bond, Mississippi. In 1967 there was some speculation that Dean might run for governor of Mississippi, but his wife's poor health precluded his seeking office.
In his eight years in the National League Dean compiled a record of 150 wins and 83 losses; he led the league in strikeouts four times and in complete games and innings pitched three times each. Despite his relatively brief major-league career, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953; at the induction ceremony, he said, "This is the greatest honor I ever received, and I wanna thank the Lord for givin' me a good right arm, a strong back, and a weak mind."
He died on July 17, 1974, in Reno, Nevada, after suffering two heart attacks in five days, and was buried in Bond, Mississippi.
Dotson’s Other Note: For those of you who don’t remember, or never knew, Dizzy’s career was cut short because of a broken big toe caused by a line drive in the 1937 All-Star game. Told that his big toe was fractured, Dean responded, "Fractured, hell, the damn thing's broken!" The injury caused him to change his pitching motion which injured his shoulder and ruined his pitching arm. As I said earlier Dizzy Dean was, in my opinion, the 2nd best sports announcer of all time. Who do you think is my first choice? Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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It's Either the “Boxing Match Of The Millennium Or A Cross-Code Money-Spinning Abomination”
July 20, 2017 | Issue #692
Dotson’s Note: I can tell you with certainty (maybe), that at long last it's happening. Once-retired all-time great boxer Floyd Mayweather will take on UFC's biggest star Conor McGregor in Las Vegas. Here is everything you need to know, or not know, about the fight. The Bleacher Report, Reuters, ESPN, AFP, Stephen Espinoza, William Hill, Nick Bogdanovich and Dana White contributed to this article.
UFC* President: “Mayweather vs McGregor Is the Biggest Fight Ever”
There has been what feels like years of speculation about the fight, with much name-calling on both sides. But the two fighters have announced that it is indeed, on. That's right, a boxer with a 49-0 record facing a man who has never taken part in a professional boxing fight.
What Date Is The Fight And At What Time?
The fight is happening on Saturday 26 August. While the times haven't been announced, it will certainly be a late night or very early start for viewers in the UK, so expect to be up well into Sunday 27 August, and possibly calling in sick on Monday 28.
Where Is The Fight Taking Place?
The bout will be housed in the T-Mobile arena on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. The venue has held major fights in the past, including UFC 202, in which McGregor beat Nate Diaz on points.
How can I watch it on TV?
Details are still to be confirmed but the fight will be a pay-per-view event, organized by Showtime Sports. The price has not been decided, though it is expected to be at or near the $99.95 charged for Mayweather's 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao that drew a record 4.4 million pay-per-view buys. "This is really an unprecedented event," said Stephen Espinoza, who heads Showtime Sports. "Really we haven't seen anything in modern history that resembles it, it's impossible to predict how many sales this will do."
What Are Their Fighting Records?
Mayweather retired in 2015 with an unblemished 49-0 professional boxing record. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive fighters ever, and prides himself on his ability to evade punishment with his skilful movement about the ring while making adjustments against opponents on the fly. A win for Mayweather would move him ahead of former heavyweight great Rocky Marciano, who also retired with a perfect 49-0 career record.
McGregor, the UFC's reigning lightweight champion and former featherweight champion, is known as much for his bravado as for his explosive knockout power inside an MMA octagon. The 28-year-old Irishman became the first UFC fighter to hold two belts simultaneously when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez in New York last November for the lightweight championship.
The UFC stripped McGregor of his featherweight belt shortly after that fight when he announced he would be taking some time off after he and long-time partner Dee Devlin had their first baby in May. Known for his devastating striking and highlight-reel knockouts, McGregor is also quick and irrational on his feet, but few would back him to beat one of the most complete boxers of all time.
What Are The Rules Of The Fight?
The fight will be held under boxing rules, presenting a huge challenge for mixed martial artists McGregor as he faces off against one of the greatest defensive boxers in history. Adding to McGregor's challenge, the fighters will be using 10-ounce boxing gloves instead of the smaller UFC gloves and he will not be allowed to use the leg kicks or takedowns that are used in mixed martial arts. McGregor will weigh in at 154 pounds, UFC president Dana White told ESPN.
What Are The Odds?
Bookies immediately predicted a Mayweather win. William Hill put the veteran fighter at 1/11 favorite. Odds maker Nick Bogdanovich said the odds would be even more lopsided if it wasn't for the deluge of small bets expected to come in from UFC fans on their fighter.
"Realistically if we were just putting up a number and didn't have to take bets on it, Floyd would be 1/100," Bogdanovich said. "But this will be a very, very big betting fight for sure, one of the biggest ever."
What Have They Said?
Floyd Mayweather Jr., at a stop of a four-city media tour promoting the fight, told the 20,000-strong crowd in Los Angeles: "I don't care if it's a ring or it's an octagon, I will kick ass. I don't back down for anybody. "You line them up and I will knock them down. On August 26, I'm gonna knock this b**** out too."
McGregor retorted: "You haven't knocked anyone out in about 20 years.”
Mayweather added: "We talking about from the nineties to now, world champion 18 years, but it is no problem. I'm not the same fighter as I was years ago, but I got enough to beat you. "You will wave that white flag. You are going out on your face or your back. Which way do you want to go? All you need to do is show up and I will do the rest. God only made one thing perfect, and that is my boxing record."
Conor McGregor, The Irishman was the crowd favorite at the opening press event as he made fun of Mayweather's IRS troubles - a lack of cash prompted him to file an appeal with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) regarding overdue taxes - and promised to flatten an aging fighter.
"He's in a track suit," McGregor said, "He can't even afford a suit anymore. “I am honoured to be here, to give you this spectacle," "His little legs, his little core, his little head, I am going to knock him out inside four rounds, mark my words. "I am a young, confident, happy man that has worked extremely hard for this. I am just up here embracing everything. No-one can do anything to me. I am just enjoying myself and having a good time. He will be unconsciousness in four rounds. He has never faced this. I don't fear him. All these rules, all these restrictions, it doesn't faze me; it amuses me. It is funny to me all these rules. All I need is a gum shield. Line me up to the ring and I am good to go."
*Ultimate Fighting Championship
Dotson’s Other Note: In other exchanges between the contestants, the boxer called McGregor a “f***ot” in an event at Wembley Arena, and McGregor faces racism accusations for comments made last week. What a bunch of nothing. In boxing, you’ve no doubt heard many times of the next “Great White Hope.” Well this is worse; it is the “Great White Hype.” Are you even going to watch it; much less contribute in the neighborhood of $100 or so to watch it live and in living color on your or a friend’s big (48” or more) television set? Before you shell any “filthy lucre,” I suggest you remember the words of Old PT himself.
Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
Have fun -30-
James Harden Tops Stephen Curry with a $228 Million Contract
July 13, 2017 | Issue #691
Dotson’s Note: This being hot stove league time in the NFL and NBA, it is inevitable that the players’ salaries are a big chunk of the discussions. After reading the headline above and hearing many complaints from “poor” NFL players, I thought it would be timely to figure out why, if true, there is a discrepancy in salaries. The following is what I discovered. Writers Adrian Wojnarowski and Tom Ziller contributed to this report.
Why Do NBA Players Make So Much More Than NFL Stars?
1. NBA players get a bigger slice of league revenue than do NFL players.
Under the current labor deal, NBA players get roughly half of all league revenue before expenses. Given an estimated $6 billion in qualifying NBA league revenue, players are allotted roughly $3 billion in total. There are mechanisms in place to ensure that players get their share of basketball-related income guaranteed to them under the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL revenue split is more complex, with varying splits based on income source and some other carve-outs for franchisees (like stadium credits). But the upshot is that NFL players are collectively guaranteed just under half of league revenues. That comes out to about $6 billion or so, given projections that NFL revenue will surpass $13 billion next season.
So in total, thanks to labor deals reached between the leagues and unions, NBA players collectively earn about $3 billion per year and NFL players collectively earn about $6 billion per year.
2. There are almost four times as many NFL roster spots as NBA roster spots.
This is the big one. NFL players get twice as much total money as NBA players, but that money is spread over almost four times as many athletes. There are 32 NFL teams with 53 roster spots each, making for 1,696 NFL players at any given moment. There are 30 NBA teams with 15 roster spots each, making for 450 NBA players. (Many NBA teams carry just 13 or 14 players, as well. NFL teams do not typically go under 53.)
Basic math bears out how important this basic fact is to the issue at hand. With $6 billion spread over 1,696 players, the average annual NFL salary would be about $3.5 million. With $3 billion shared among 450 players, the average annual NBA salary is roughly $6.7 million. So just because of roster sizes, the average NBA salary is roughly double that of the average NFL salary.
3. The NBA's player maximums inflate the salaries of the middle class.
The NBA has a soft salary cap structure — you're more likely to see teams exceed the cap than sit under it. But there is a hard cap on individual player salaries. These figures are based on percentages of the cap and years of service. Veterans with a decade in the league can sign deals starting at 35 percent of the cap. So LeBron James, who's been around 13 seasons, can't sign for more than a starting salary of about $33 million this season, even though every team in the league would offer him $50 million or more if given the opportunity. If LeBron is worth $60 million per year but can only make $33 million, that other $27 million has to go somewhere.
The max salaries are lower for younger players: Kevin Durant has nine years in, so he can only sign for a starting salary that is 30 percent of the team cap. (That's why he's likely to sign a short deal; his max salary increases to 35 percent next year, once he has 10 years in the league.) Players signing their first contract after their rookie deal can only go up to 25 percent unless they meet strict criteria to exceed it (multiple All-NBA nods, an MVP, etc.). These are artificial constraints that depress the freedom of teams to give the best NBA players what they are truly worth on the court.
But that $3 billion has to be spent! So we end up with a feeding frenzy for middle-tier and lower-tier free agents, especially when the NBA team salary cap jumps up as it has in 2016 (and will again in 2017).
This is not the case in the NFL, where (for the most part) the stars are paid like stars and the lower-tier players are paid like lower-tier players.
4. The NBA rookie scale is very small.
The No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Ben Simmons, will make $4.9 million in 2016-17, or 5 percent of the team salary cap. In 2017-18 he'll make $5.1 million, or 4.7 percent of the projected $108 million team cap. And he's the No. 1 pick! Lower first-round picks are capped even tighter, all for the first four years of their careers. As with maximums for superstars, this means more money for the NBA middle class. The NFL recently got its own rookie contracts under control. No. 1 pick Jared Goff will make only marginally more than Simmons over the next four years. In addition, because of the league's age minimums, NFL draft picks are in theory better prepared (physically, if nothing else) to produce early in their career as opposed to the NBA's 19-year-olds.
Why is this an issue? Say 35 total NBA draft picks (from both rounds in the current year plus stashed players from previous years) make opening night rosters. That's almost 8 percent of the entire league on small, fixed-rate contracts. Some of these players might not be productive, but teams will keep them on their rosters with hopes of developing their potential. That limitation on the available roster spots for veteran players inflates the dollar value for that middle class. This will likely change in the next NBA labor deal, possibly with rookie scale deals becoming percentages of the team salary cap instead of set dollar amounts. (There's talk the league could also expand roster sizes to add developmental slots.)
5. The NBA's salary cap structure diminishes the role of non-guaranteed contracts.
A huge difference in NFL and NBA player salaries is that only a fraction of the typical NFL contract is guaranteed. Most NBA contracts are fully guaranteed, or include a player option. There are plenty of team options or non-guaranteed contracts out there. But because of the issues described above -- there's so much money to go around, and you can't pay the superstars more if you wanted to -- players and their agents have power and can wave away non-guarantees. That power doesn't exist for the NFL middle class. Only the biggest stars get huge signing bonuses (which equate to guarantees, effectively).
There are also some factors beyond the basic math that lead to larger NBA contracts than NFL contracts. These likely have a much smaller impact than the above factors.
Dotson’s Other Note: For the record, as of press time, James Harden is the *NBA’s highest paid player, and Derek Carr is the *NFL’s highest paid player. *Subject to change any minute. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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World's Fastest Man-Woman
July 6, 2017 | Issue #690
Dotson’s Note: When I was about 6 years old, I discovered that I was a faster runner than any other kid, boy or girl, around. As I got older, I got faster and was convinced that one day I would be known as “The World’s Fastest Man,” whatever that meant. Please note that the first recorded world’s record was clocked on July 6, 1912, only one-hundred five years ago.
A Little History
The title of "World’s Fastest Man" might have been small comfort to Donald Lippincott, the first holder of the 100m* World record, as he left Stockholm without Olympic gold. On 6 July 1912 Lippincott ran a time of 10.6 in the 100m qualifying rounds, but was defeated in the final by Ralph Craig and Alvah Meyer, both his teammates on the USA squad. Returning for the 200m, he was bested again by Craig, but this time took silver.
Despite four Germans having recorded 10.5 times in the year leading up to the Stockholm Games, however, Lippincott left Sweden as the World record holder, and would keep that title for eight years without peers. In 1920 Jackson Scholz gained a share of the record, and finally in 1921 Charlie Paddock knocked the record down to 10.4.
Ties, Timing And Consolidation
The next fifty years of ratified records looked very similar, with hand-timed tenths of a second coming off the best performances in the world, then those performances being equaled, perhaps repeatedly, before another tenth finally came off. As many as ten men officially shared the ratified World record at times, with as many as twelve ratified performances, although as wind readings became widely available those numbers were sometimes available to compare otherwise-identical times.
In the second half of the twentieth century, competition to become the World’s Fastest Man got tougher as automatic timing became widely available and, starting in 1977, required for World record ratification. Records could now be sliced to hundredths of seconds. Jim Hines, whose 9.95 Olympic record in Mexico City had given him a share of the World record at 9.9, now became the sole holder of the record.
At the same time, in the United States, a drive toward wider use of international measurement meant more sprinters were competing at 100m and fewer at the imperial distances of 100y and 110y. Since Lippincott’s first ratified World Record, forty-four men have held or shared the record with 67 ratified marks; twenty-six of those men represented the USA. (Of other countries, Canada, Jamaica and Germany have all had three record-holders. Since the shift to automatic timing, seven men have held the record, four from the USA, two from Jamaica, and one from Canada.)
Aiding the revolution in speed was the transition from dirt tracks to synthetic surfaces, which offered more regular footing and returned more energy to sprinters, allowing them to turn more of their raw power into speed. Bob Hayes’ 10.0 in Tokyo, 1964 (automatically timed as 10.05) was on a soft, chewed-up lane 1; four years later on a synthetic track in Mexico City, benefiting from altitude as much as the improved footing, Jim Hines ran 9.95.
The Records and The Romance
Numbers are one thing, but the magic of the 100m comes from the men on the track. The winners at this iconic distance often became folk heroes like the near-legendary Jesse Owens. They are known by nicknames, like "Bullet" Bob Hayes (Owens was also known as "the Buckeye Bullet") and or "King" Carl Lewis. Hayes, who went on to a successful career in NFL football, was a celebrity in his day, as was Owens.
Many former record holders have a complicated relationship with the fame, particularly those for whom the record came without global championships. Leroy Burrell, who set World records in 1991 and 1994, told ESPN reporter Mike Fish in 2009, "I don't think athletes sit around [saying], 'Well, I am the world's fastest man.' … I never really looked at it as the world's fastest. I looked at it as, I broke the World record. That is the standard out there. That is my PR. And I'm going to try and do it again." Lippincott, the frustrated Olympic bronze medalist, might have said the same.
Maurice Greene, on the other hand, believed in the power of the record, saying, "The biggest event in track and field is the 100 meters. [...] at some point in time, everybody in their life always argued about who could get from this point to this point the fastest. And it is always a short distance. So a lot of people can relate to it."
American sportswriter Chuck Klosterman agreed, arguing, "Sprinting has represented half of the 'fight or flight’ instinct for the totality of human existence, yet we still have no idea of our true limitations… which explains why athletics will always matter."
Records And Medals
Today the record, the medals, and the glamour are all tied up in the same man: Usain St. Leo "Lightning" Bolt, defending Olympic champion, 2009 World champion, and three-time World record setter with clockings of 9.72, 9.69 and 9.58.
"The World record means nothing without gold medals in the World Championships or the Olympics," said Bolt on the occasion of his first record. "If you are the Olympic champion, they have to wait four years to try to beat you." Four years later, challengers are nearing the end of waiting to challenge Bolt the Olympic champion. In the past Olympiad, only Tyson Gay has joined Bolt under 9.70, with a 9.69 in Shanghai in 2009; should Bolt’s record survive into 2013, he may find himself the longest-reigning World’s Fastest Man since Jim Hines’ 9.95.
Speculation continues about the ultimate limits of human performance, but as long as the possibility exists that even Bolt may improve his own record–and no sprinter has ever admitted to running a race they could not improve somewhere–one of those limits remains just out of sight, with the World Record just a mark along our road toward it.
The current men's world record is 9.58 seconds, set by Jamaica's Usain Bolt in 2009, while the women's world record of 10.49 seconds set by American Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 remains unbroken.
Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner)
Florence Griffith-Joyner is unquestionably the fastest women’s sprinter of all time. There is some question, however, about exactly how fast she was. The woman known as Flo-Jo was a successful runner in the early to mid-1980s, winning 200-meter silver medals at the 1984 Olympics and the 1987 World Championships. In 1988, however, she became a record-breaker. Griffith-Joyner opened the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials with a wind-aided 10.60 clocking in the first heat. Her best time and still the world record is 10.49 seconds.
*m= Meters: A meter is 39.3701 inches and 100m is equal to 109.361 yards
Dotson’s Other Note: The World’s Fastest Man or the World’s Fastest Woman isn’t a title granted as formally as "The World’s Greatest Athlete," but it is much simpler to explain. For the last 100 years, the World record holder in the 100m has been, by definition, the fastest man and woman in history, finishing their race with the highest average speed. The history of the record is interesting in itself, with the shortest classical distance highlighting technical advances in timing and surfaces. 100m record holders, however, represent the current summit of human achievement in an elemental feat understood by children as easily as scientists. My best speed was at 30 yards. I was very fast to 1st base, but in sprint races, the good sprinters started passing me around the 40 yard mark. I haven’t been clocked lately, but I would guess my 30 yard speed at around 9 to 10 seconds. Slow, but I can get there. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
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Celebrating the 4th in Sports
June 29, 2017 | Issue #689
Dotson’s Note: With the 4th of July, Independence Day, right around the corner, I thought I would do a little research, just to see if there were any really memorable sport events which occurred on the glorious 4th. There a few that grabbed me: such as Nolan Ryan’s 3000th strike out and Lou Gehrig’s good-bye, but the following is one you may never have heard of. It is in my not so humble opinion that Joe Louis Barrow is one of the, if not the, greatest sports figures of all time.
A Moment in July 4th Sports History-The Brown Bomber Goes Professional
On this date in 1934, Joe Louis made his professional boxing debut on Chicago’s South Side.
After winning a national amateur championship, he fought against Jack Kracken, who was making his last appearance in the ring. Louis bid farewell to Kracken by knocking him out in the first round, earning Louis $59, which wasn’t chump change in 1934.
While Kracken left professional boxing with a record of 10 wins and seven losses, Louis became one of the first African-American heroes in the United States.
What most people don’t know is that Louis was also a big part of breaking professional golf’s color barrier, when he appeared in a PGA event under a sponsor exemption.
While Independence Day is a big day in American history, it’s also a pretty big day in sports history. Several events that changed the face of sports happened on this date, as well as one big event that, had it not happened, we might not have all the events mentioned here today.
Joe Louis-The Man
Joe Louis burst onto the professional boxing scene in 1934 with more style and skill than the boxing world had ever seen. Known to many as the “Brown Bomber,” Louis emerged victorious from his first 27 fights, all but four of which he won in knockouts. In the early days of his career, he destroyed such great heavyweight fighters as Stanley Poreda, Natie Brown, and Rosco Toles. It was here that Louis delivered to the entire world a premonition of the reign of domination that he was to begin.
Joe Louis Barrow was born on May 13, 1914. His father, “Mun Barrow,” was a cotton picker from Alabama and his family fought with poverty for most of his childhood. His family moved to Detroit in 1924, at which point Joe first became involved in boxing. Having grown up in the Old South, Louis had acquired the instinct and anger of a true fighter, even amidst the evils of racial discrimination and intolerance. His early career was a period of hard work and determination, and was one without glamour or fame. Ten years after his arrival in Detroit, Louis won the Golden Gloves as a light heavyweight. Following this win, Louis turned professional and won twelve contests within the first year. The first few years of Louis’ pro career involved a steady ascension up the pyramid of the Heavyweight class. His boxing prowess, as well as his reputation, was growing at an incredible rate. In June of 1935, he fought Primo Carnera, the former heavyweight champion, before a Yankee Stadium crowd of 62,000. Louis followed this fight with a pairing against Max Baer, who he defeated by knockout in the fourth round. Ernest Hemingway described this fight as “the most disgusting public spectacle outside of a public hanging” that he had ever seen.
Joe Louis was seemingly invincible, until his meeting with Max Schmeling on June 19, 1936. Schmeling was the underdog but, to the surprise of all, gave Louis a defeat that would continue to sting long after the cuts had healed. Louis was counted out in the 12th round of this lengthy fight and suffered the first and most painful defeat of his boxing career. In 1937, Louis faced world heavyweight champion James J. Braddock in Chicago. In an eight round match, Louis captured the heavyweight title of the world by knocking Braddock out. After this victory, Louis stated, “I don’t want nobody to call me champ until I beat Schmeling.” Louis had ascended to the top of the boxing world, but in his estimate his journey was far from complete. His embarrassing loss to Max Schmeling was the only dark spot on a career that was otherwise the stuff of dreams, and he was consumed by a desire for revenge.
Following a successful title defense against Welsh boxer Tommy Farr in a 15-round marathon match, Louis initiated his “Bum of the Month” campaign. The idea was for Louis to take on a variety of fighters, whether they were contenders or not.
During this period, on the day of June 22, 1938, Louis once again took on the only opponent who had ever beaten him, Max Schmeling. This time around, Louis knocked Schmeling out and captured the admiration of countless Americans. Louis gained a moral victory for himself and for his country, and simultaneously struck a damaging blow to Hitler and his pretentious beliefs.
Louis’ first punches, a pair of powerful left hooks, began his opponent’s eventual demise. Schmeling complained bitterly about being hit with foul kidney punches, but every punch was a fair one. The fight was nothing short of ridiculous, with Schmeling falling to the floor in just two minutes and four seconds.
It was this time period that bore witness to Louis’ reign of terror in the heavyweight boxing world. Beginning in 1937, he began a 12-year reign as boxing’s heavyweight champion of the world. During this stretch, Louis had victories over Lou Nova, Tony Galento, Gus Dorazio, Buddy Baer, and Johnny Paycheck. Louis’ epic battle with Billy Conn at the Polo Grounds also occurred during this time.
In 1942, Joe Louis began a period of service in the Army and worked as a physical education teacher. It would be four years before Louis again returned to the ring. Between 1946 and 1949, Louis flawlessly defended his title four times, including two victorious fights against ‘Jersey’ Joe Walcott.
Louis retired in 1949, still the undefeated heavyweight champ. Succumbing to financial pressures and government debts, Louis was forced back into the ring. In 1950, he attempted to recapture his title in a bout against Ezzard Charles. However, in a points decision, Louis was handed a loss. Not ready to accept defeat, he again tried his hand in 1951 against Rocky Marciano. During this unsuccessful return to the ring, Marciano knocked Louis through the ropes in the 8th round. This was Joe Louis’ final time in the ring. He had earned $5 million in his illustrious boxing career. But at 37, Joe Louis had not a single cent to show for it. To support himself, Louis decided to make a living as a Las Vegas casino host.
Joe Louis still holds the distinction of having successfully defended his title more times than any other heavyweight in history. He knocked out five world champions and will remain a powerful part of boxing history for all-time. His life and success story serve as proof that black and white Americans can coexist.
Joe Louis is a role model for all of us and proved that good sportsmanship can exist even in a sport as violent as boxing. When he died in 1981, Joe Louis was eulogized – and continues to be known – as one of the greatest prizefighters of all time.
Dotson’s Other Note: I thought that if I only related to you the report of Joe Louis going pro I would leave you hanging, so I thought I had better tell you something about the man. His life story is one that reminds us of what we can do as Americans... Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Flying Dutchman
June 22, 2017 | Issue #688
Dotson’s Note: “There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer,” said the greatest player of his time, or most any other time – Honus Wagner. In my “expert” opinion Honus Wagner was the greatest shortstop in the history of baseball and he very well may have been the greatest player in National League history. June 6th was the 103rd anniversary of his 3000th hit. Can you believe he could throw a baseball 403 feet? Many of the facts in this article were contributed by sports writer Jan Finkel.
One of five sons and four daughters of the former Katrina Wolf and Peter Wagner, Honus (a diminutive of Johann or Johannes, the German equivalents of John) was born Johannes Peter Wagner in the coal country of western Pennsylvania on February 24, 1874. The Wagners lived in the tiny borough of Chartiers, about six miles southwest of downtown Pittsburgh.
Albert, an older brother considered the best ballplayer in the family, began playing the game professionally, and in 1895 when his Steubenville, Ohio, (Inter-State League) team needed help, he suggested Honus. Honus’s first year was an odyssey covering five teams, three leagues, and 80 games. He hit wherever he played (between .365 and .386) and showed his versatility by playing every position except catcher.
Edward Barrow, wearing several hats with the Wheeling, West Virginia, team (Iron and Oil League), liked what he saw and in 1896 took Honus with him to his next team, in Paterson, New Jersey (Atlantic League). Honus rewarded Barrow’s faith by playing wherever he was needed –first, third, the outfield, or second – and hitting .313 with power and speed. He followed up by hitting .375 in 74 games for Paterson in 1897.
Recognizing that Wagner should be playing at the highest level, Barrow contacted the Louisville Colonels, who had finished last in the National League in 1896 with a record of 38-93. They were doing better in 1897 when Barrow persuaded club president Barney Dreyfuss, club secretary Harry Pulliam, and outfielder-manager Fred Clarke to go to Paterson to see Wagner play. Dreyfuss and Clarke weren’t impressed with the awkward-looking man, not surprising, as Wagner was oddly built – 5-feet-1l, 200 pounds, with a barrel chest, massive shoulders, heavily muscled arms, huge hands, and incredibly bowed legs that deprived him of any grace and several inches of height. Pulliam, though, persuaded Dreyfuss and Clarke to take a chance on him. Wagner debuted with Louisville on July 19, and hit.338 in 61 games.
Pulliam was right. The awkward-looking Honus would become the best pure athlete in the game. Seeing Wagner at bat, standing straight up waiting for the pitch, was to witness raw power. He held his heavy bat (well over 40 ounces) with his hands several inches apart, a grip that allowed him to slap an outside pitch to right at the last moment or slide his hands together and pull an inside pitch down the left-field line. Now obsolete, the split-handed grip was relatively popular in the early part of the twentieth century. Wagner and Ty Cobb used it, winning 20 batting titles and accumulating about 7,600 hits between them.
Honus was deceptive on the bases, too. He didn’t look fast, but he stole over 700 bases and legged out almost 900 doubles and triples. His speed got him the nickname “The Flying Dutchman.” In baseball, as in the worlds of myth and legend, titles and nicknames are earned. (The direct albeit coincidental allusion to the myth and Richard Wagner’s opera of the same name didn’t hurt, either.) Wagner’s form as seen in early film was distinctive as he tore around the bases with his arms whirling like a berserk freestyle swimmer. Honus thought the arm motion gave him speed, and he got results.
Wagner was a sight in the field as well. His huge hands made it difficult to tell whether he was wearing a glove. The glove that seemed too small for his hand was made even smaller by cutting a hole in the palm and pulling out much of the stuffing. Doing so, he thought, gave him better feel and hand mobility, reasonable given the pancake-shaped glove he used. Quick of foot and reflex, he covered the left side of the infield, knocking down balls (making errors on balls that other shortstops wouldn’t have reached) as necessary and throwing out runners with his powerful arm. He would irritate Clarke by taking his time making the throw on close plays at first. Wagner told Clarke he’d change when he quit throwing runners out. His one weakness in the field stemmed from his oversized feet, which sometimes got in the way. At bat, on the bases, and in the field, Wagner wasn’t pretty, just effective.
Wagner played in 151 games in 1898, handling first, second, and third, and hitting .299. He wouldn’t see the south side of .300 again until 1914. Louisville improved to 75-77 in 1899, helped by Honus’s hitting. That winter things would change drastically for all concerned.
National League officials reduced league membership from 12 teams to eight. The Louisville club was dissolved. Dreyfuss bought stock in the Pittsburgh Pirates and through clever maneuvering became president of the club. Replacing unproductive Pirates with top players from Louisville, including Wagner, Dreyfuss pushed the Pirates to second behind the Brooklyn Superbas in 1900. Wagner thanked Dreyfuss for bringing him home, hitting and slugging career-bests .381 and .573.
The decade spanning 1900 to 1909 belonged to Wagner. He led in every significant category except triples (second behind Sam Crawford of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers) and home runs, (tied for fifth). A summary of Wagner’s year-by-year hitting titles shows the following: batting average (7 times); on-base percentage (4); slugging (6); runs scored (2); hits (1); total bases (6); doubles (7); triples (3); RBIs (4); and stolen bases (5). Furthermore, he led the league in various categories up to 1912 and stayed among the leaders a few years after that.
The rise of the American League in 1901 triggered bidding wars and player raids that decimated most National League teams. Wagner showed his loyalty to Dreyfuss, the Pirates, and Pittsburgh by refusing an offer of $20,000 up front from Chicago White Stockings pitcher-manager Clark Griffith. The tale, perhaps apocryphal, doesn’t hurt Wagner’s legacy.
Pittsburgh survived the war between the leagues relatively unscathed, capturing the pennant from 1901 to 1903 and the World Series in 1909, and remaining strong throughout the decade. The team’s won-lost record of 938-538 and winning percentage of .636 are the best of the period.
Led by Wagner, the 1901 Pirates began a three-year stranglehold over the National League.
Their 90-49 record was 7½ games better than the Philadelphia Phillies, with Wagner’s 126 RBIs the major-league best for the decade. The 1902 unit went 103-36, storming to a major-league record 27½-game margin over runner-up Brooklyn. Honus contributed by leading the league in slugging, doubles, steals, runs, and RBIs. The Pirates couldn’t decide where to play him, though. He had played every position except catcher at least adequately, often brilliantly. In two stints on the mound he gave up no earned runs (but several unearned ones), giving him the lowest ERA of anyone in the Hall of Fame – 0.00. His roaming around the diamond would change in 1903, as he finally found his permanent home at shortstop.
Dotson’s Other Note: The foregoing is just small part of the story of Honus Wagner-Shortstop. The first baseball player I remember my older friends (WWI Veterans) talking about was the “Flying Dutchman”. It was unanimous among these friends that Honus Wager was the best baseball player ever. I was about 6 years old when I decided that shortstop was my position, and that I would pattern my play after the great Mr. Wagner. Like Honus, I even tried my hand at pitching. The only time I was an effective pitcher was when I was throwing batting practice. Honus Wagner passed away December 6, 1955 at the age of 81. I never achieved one of my childhood goals, which was to shake hands with Mr. Wagner…but I could and did play a pretty good shortstop. Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: email@example.com
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Brief History of Professional Basketball in the United States
May 25, 2017
Dotson’s Note: I thought that before the NBA championship is decided, some of you Moon Monkeys might enjoy some ancient basketball history. It is a game that grows on you. Sit back and enjoy. Thanks to Wikipedia for many of the facts in this report.
First-The National Basketball League
The National Basketball League was the first professional basketball league in the world. Centered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the league's teams stretched from New York City to Central New Jersey, through the Philadelphia area and down to Wilmington, Delaware. The league began operations with the 1898-1899 season and disbanded in January 1904, prior to completing the 1903-04 season.
The league was originally intended to consist of two separate geographic districts, one based in Philadelphia and the other in New York City. The New York district never got off the ground, however.
The league debuted on December 1, 1898, with a game between the Trenton Nationals and the Hancock Athletic Association at Textile Hall in Philadelphia's Kensington section. The Nationals rallied in the second-half to win, 21-19, before 900 fans.
The 1898-99 season saw six teams in the league. Three were in Philadelphia (Clover Wheelmen, Germantown Nationals, and Hancock Athletic Association), and three were in New Jersey (Millville Glass Blowers, Camden Electrics, and Trenton Nationals). Two of the Philadelphia teams folded prior to New Year's Eve 1898, but the other four completed the season, with the Trenton Nationals winning the first championship with an 18-2-1 record.
The following season was more stable for the new league. The season was divided into two halves. Teams in the first half were Trenton, New York Wanderers, Camden Electrics, Pennsylvania Bicycle Club, Bristol Pile Drivers, and Chester, PA. The New York Wanderers joined, and only one team, out of Chester, Pennsylvania, dropped out, and it was immediately replaced by the Millville team, which had originally elected not to participate that season. Trenton and Millville provided the best teams in the loop, with Trenton gaining a disputed championship, in which the team won both halves of the season.
The National Basketball League began the 1900-1901 season with seven teams and an expanded schedule of 32 games. Of the seven teams, six remained. The new entry, from Burlington NJ, failed to complete the season. The seven teams were the New York Wanderers, Trenton Nationals, Millville Glass Blowers, Bristol Pile Drivers, Camden Skeeters, Pennsylvania Bicycle Club, and Burlington.
With five of the seven teams finishing with records of .500 or better, NBL fans saw good competitive play from most teams throughout the season. In this season the Camden team also went by the handle of Camden Skeeters, apparently after what many call the New Jersey state bird, the mosquito. With the split season dropped, no playoffs were necessary, and the New York Wanderers captured the League title by three games.
The 1901-1902 season may have been the most successful year of the National Basketball League in terms of stability, with six strong franchises, namely the Bristol, New York, Trenton, Camden, Millville, and Philadelphia teams from the previous year. The schedule expanded once again to 40 games, every game save one was played as scheduled, no teams dropped out, and there was only one really weak team in the league. Camden finally became more than a .500 team and lost the league crown to the Bristol Pile Drivers by only 3 games. Bristol had a 28-12 record.
Warriors Win Inaugural NBA Finals
Joe Fulks, the 6’5” forward of the Philadelphia Warriors, guided his team to the first championship of the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the NBA.
A crowd of 7,918 packed the old Philadelphia Arena on April 16, 1947, as the series opened between the Warriors and the Chicago Stags. The Warriors took a 34-20 lead at intermission, then watched Fulks pour in 29 points in the second half. He hit his first eight shots of the fourth period and added five free throws to finish with 37 points in what the Associated Press called "the greatest shooting exhibition ever seen on the arena floor."
Angelo Musi, a 5-foot-9 guard out of Temple with a smooth set shot, added 19 points as the Warriors won it going away, 84-71. The Stags, meanwhile, had taken an incredible 129 shots, hitting only 26 of them (20 percent).
Fulks cooled off considerably the next night for Game 2, but it didn't matter. Five Warriors finished in double figures, including forward Howie Dallmar with 18 points and utility player Jerry Fleishman with 16. It was just enough to allow Philadelphia to nurse a lead of as much as eight points for most of the game. The Stags took a brief advantage at 69-68, but Art Hillhouse, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound center, was the man in the fourth period. The big center scored seven of Philly's last 10 points as the Warriors made it two games to none with an 85-74 win.
The series then moved to Chicago. The weather seemed good, so the Warriors decided to take a commercial flight. As it turned out, the commercial carrier was attempting to set a record for the flight to Chicago, with hopes of covering the 800 or so miles in less than four hours. Thoughts of setting records soon ended after the plane was airborne.
"We were up in the air about five to 10 minutes when we smelled smoke," guard George Senesky said. "I asked Dallmar if he had put a cigarette out on the floor. Then all this black smoke filled the plane."
They had to return to the airport and switch to another plane. The incident was enough to lead at least one player to retire early from the league. But for the most part the Warriors resumed their trip to Chicago unscathed.
The Warriors did immediate damage the next night, April 19, as Fulks returned to form and led the Warriors with 26 points. With about four minutes left, Philly led by 10. Although the Stags closed fast, the Warriors held on to win 75-72 for a commanding 3-0 series lead.
They almost iced it the next night. Chicago held a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Fulks had spent most of the third quarter on the bench with four fouls, but he returned in the fourth as Philly made a run. The Warriors might have pulled it off if Fulks hadn't fouled out with two minutes left and the Warriors down by two points. He finished with 21 points; Senesky led all scorers with 24. But Chicago's Max Zaslofsky and Don Carlson scored 20 and 18 points, respectively, and the Stags kept their hopes alive with a 74-73 win.
The scene shifted back to Market Street, where Fulks again showed his form in Game 5. He hit for 34 points, Musi scored 13 and Senesky 11. But it was assists specialist Dallmar who salvaged a close game. With less than a minute left and the score tied at 80 apiece, he hit the big bucket.
"I scored the winning basket, which gave me a total of two points for the game," Dallmar, who went on to a career coaching at Stanford, said later. "It was from outside. I think it bounced about four times before it went in."
Fleishman added a late free throw, and the Warriors brought home a trophy for the new game's old town. Each of the players received a $2,000 bonus, quite a boost in those days, and a ring with a diamond chip in it.
Dallmar recalled being quite impressed with the money at a time when the members of the All-Star team got nothing more than a tie clasp and an autographed picture of Commissioner Maurice Podoloff. As for Coach Ed Gottlieb, the victory meant a toast. After the game he retreated to an office in the Arena for the Manhattan.
"He didn't even sip it," Senesky recalled with a laugh. "One gulp and it was gone."
1947 Finals: Philadelphia 4, Chicago 1
Dotson’s Other Note: How about the big $2000 bonus to the winning players? In my opinion the current NBA basketball is very entertaining, but certainly not basketball as I know it. I do believe that basketball has the best athletes in pro sports. I will watch many of the games, but mostly to observe the officials and wonder what they are told by the league as to how to call the games. It ain’t basketball, but it is fun to watch. I am working on a name for the game…any suggestions? Your comments, suggestions, questions and concerns regarding Sports Talk articles are greatly appreciated, please call the Benchwarmers at 361-560-5397 weekdays, Mondays thru Fridays, 5-7 PM, or contact me. Phone: 361-949-7681 Cell: 530-748-8475 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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